STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

A Mark Zuckerberg-backed nonprofit is helping separated migrant families

Staffers at FWD.us, the advocacy group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other tech leaders, do ...

Posted: Aug 16, 2018 10:23 AM
Updated: Aug 16, 2018 10:23 AM

Staffers at FWD.us, the advocacy group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other tech leaders, do what they can to reform the nation's immigration laws.

That usually means spending the day talking to lawmakers, business executives, and grassroots activists throughout the United States.

But when the Trump Administration started separating 2,551 children from their migrant parents, 14 employees of the organization landed squarely in the middle of the crisis.

The group spent two weeks in July in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona booking flights for reunited parents and their children who were just out of federal custody. The multi-million dollar effort, called Flights for Families, required long hours on the phone booking some 1,300 tickets and attending to countless other details, such as lining up prepaid cell phones, connecting families with lawyers, and keeping the kids entertained.

"We're not usually in the business of doing this sort of work," said FWD.us president Todd Schulte. "We decided to dive in and say, 'There is a need for people who have worked in this space before, who are willing to put in long hours and do some hard work, and help out.'"

In a way, the work dovetails with the FWD.us mission.

Zuckerberg, Gates, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and other tech and business leaders launched FWD.us in 2013 to push immigration reform. The nonprofit has emphasized revising the rules of governing visas for skilled workers, and working to protect so-called Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.

Related: Couple raises more than $6M on Facebook to reunite migrant families

Immigration is an important issue to Silicon Valley, which depends upon a steady supply of skilled foreign workers, many of whom are able to work in the US thanks to H1-B visas. More than half of the 25 largest US tech companies, including Google, Amazon, and Apple, were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Although the tech sector is invested in comprehensive visa reform, Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, says the companies also would benefit from a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Changing the laws to give Dreamers legal status will "supercharge the economy," says Schulte.

FWD.us had a rough start. The bi-partisan group drew criticism for financing television ads for conservative senators, which promoted controversial causes such as the Keystone XL pipeline. As a result, some early supporters, including Elon Musk and tech entrepreneur David Sacks, broke ties with the group.

FWD.us found its groove over the years by working behind the scenes, largely without controversy, while lobbying for federal and state immigration reform.

The organization is focused on saving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary legal status to nearly 700,000 people who arrived in the country as children. It pushed the government to allow DACA to keep accepting applications even though the Obama-era progam remains in legislative limbo under President Trump. Earlier this year, it began focusing more on criminal justice reform, helping pass a bill in Oklahoma that aims to reduce the state's prison population.

FWD.us does not disclose how much individual donors contribute, but Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan are key supporters, says Schulte.

Related: The Facebook campaign reuniting immigrant families won't stop -- despite Trump's policy reversal

Silicon Valley's often liberal views toward immigration have placed it at odds with the Trump Administration, from its Muslim ban to the latest immigration crackdown efforts that separated children from their parents. The pivot for FWD.us' on-the-ground involvement came in mid-May when the separations gained national attention.

"It was awful. It's abhorrent. It's terrible. We fought really hard to get that policy stopped," said Schulte. "We think that, not only is this a critical time where immigrants and immigration are under serious threat, but America is under threat of closing ourselves off to world."

The organization wanted to help as much as it could on the ground. The funding for the Flights for Families campaign came from the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, also known as RAICES. The group also raised $20 million over six days on Facebook via a viral post, fueled largely by people outraged over the separation policy.

Jenny Barin, is the special projects manager at FWD.us, but found herself playing travel agent in El Paso, Texas. She booked flights for the 321 families who had been released at six local shelters. FWD.us workers faced logistical hurdles, such as making sure airlines seated children alongside their parents, and helping families -- some of whom had limited English skills -- deal with flight delays and cancellations.

Others spent time entertaining the children, playing, arranging screenings of movies like Coco, and finding birthday candles to top a Hostess cupcake for one boy newly reunited with his mother.

"It's been a really intense process and treating people with a little big of human dignity -- when the government tried to strip them of that -- is something that we really wanted to bring to this," said Schulte.

"We're really lucky to be supported by people financially who believed in this, who said, 'Let's go and help these people who our government has done awful things to, and is not helping,'" said Schulte.

Now, the FWD.us employees are largely back to pushing for federal and state immigration reform. They still get involved with individual cases and advocating for the people impacted by the laws.

The group was recently working closely with Alejandra Juarez, the wife of a combat Marine veteran and mother of two US citizen children, who was facing deportation. But FWD.us was unsuccessful. She returned to Mexico last week, without her family.

West Lafayette
Overcast
53° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 53°
Kokomo
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 51°
Rensselaer
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 52°
Fowler
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 52°
Williamsport
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 54°
Crawfordsville
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 49°
Frankfort
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 50°
Delphi
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 50°
Monticello
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 50°
Logansport
Scattered Clouds
48° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 48°
Cooler, Windy with Spotty Showers
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 118322

Reported Deaths: 3591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21502767
Lake10688323
Elkhart6707111
St. Joseph6619113
Allen6330205
Hamilton4938109
Vanderburgh378131
Hendricks2766124
Monroe265536
Tippecanoe256613
Johnson2352124
Clark225957
Porter219947
Delaware200162
Cass19559
Vigo186827
Madison170375
LaPorte149141
Floyd139664
Warrick138242
Howard132663
Kosciusko125917
Bartholomew118457
Marshall101524
Dubois99919
Boone99146
Grant95134
Hancock94643
Noble93132
Henry81226
Jackson7739
Wayne77014
Morgan73438
Daviess68028
Shelby68029
Dearborn67528
LaGrange64011
Clinton62314
Harrison59224
Putnam58411
Gibson5355
Knox5289
Lawrence51629
Montgomery51121
DeKalb48811
White48714
Decatur45939
Miami4394
Greene42735
Fayette42313
Jasper4012
Scott39011
Steuben3907
Posey3460
Sullivan33812
Jennings31612
Franklin31325
Clay3085
Ripley3078
Orange28824
Whitley2826
Carroll27813
Adams2763
Wabash2728
Starke2717
Washington2701
Wells2674
Spencer2633
Jefferson2503
Huntington2473
Fulton2442
Tipton22822
Randolph2238
Perry22113
Jay1920
Newton17411
Owen1711
Martin1680
Pike1641
Rush1574
Vermillion1310
Fountain1292
Blackford1213
Pulaski1141
Crawford1100
Parke1072
Brown1043
Benton870
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren411
Unassigned0226

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events